Why Donna Hylton’s Past Does & Doesn’t Matter
January 27, 2017 (Fault Lines) — The American Spectator isn’t exactly the finest or most impartial source for news and opinion, but a blog post entitled, “The Women Movement’s Embrace of Rape-Torturer Psychopath Donna Hylton” both lowers the bar for discussing the Women’s March and the issues at its heart, and highlights the problematic approach many people take when arguing against things they oppose.
The post begins with this:
Via Twitter, on a Reddit forum, I stumbled over this horrifying story: Donna Hylton, a woman who spent time in prison for participating in the kidnapping, rape, murder, and ransoming of a gay man, spoke at the Women’s March as an advocate for women of color.
The story of what Hylton did in her youth is without a doubt horrifying, and both the blog post and the Psychology Today article it cites discuss her crime in excruciating detail. There’s no doubt about it; Hylton and others did the unthinkable. They tortured a man to death. Hylton also went to prison for it for a long time. The post doesn’t emphasize that nearly as much, of course.
The principles behind the Women’s March, things like equal rights and ending violence against women, don’t just matter to women. Women aren’t the only people capable of speaking on the subject, but Hylton brings something very interesting to the table. As Hylton very clearly explains on her website, she’s a women’s rights activist and criminal justice reform advocate. She is a woman. She is black. She was also the victim of abuse as a child and spent a long time in prison after committing a heinous crime.
Hylton’s life experiences are relevant to her causes. A white guy who’s never been to prison might be able to give a great talk about violence against women and inequality, but there’s an understandable draw to hearing about violence and discrimination against women from someone who’s experienced both. There’s an understandable draw to hearing about what happens to black women in the criminal justice system from a black woman who’s been through the criminal justice system. Hylton’s background doesn’t make her positions are any more valid, but even if her conclusions based on her life experiences are dead wrong, her perspective is colored by a very unique and very germane set of life experiences. Her views are worth hearing.
The reasoning in the blog post is dangerous for numerous reasons. Attacking something as huge and diverse as feminism in general or some imagined “Women’s Movement” represented by a single march because of the background of one person involved is the sort of thing that only succeeds with the stupidest among us. To say that such a movement is embracing someone simply by having her speak is misleading.
If it wasn’t obvious enough that the post is really just a flawed attack on something the author dislikes, this made it abundantly clear:
At the Women’s March, there was no mention of the man who lost his life because of her actions. There was no humility–only defiance. Donna Hylton presented herself as a victim but did not mention her role as victimizer.
There are also no prayers for victims of police brutality at funerals for officers shot in the line of duty, though the post’s author would surely bristle at the mere thought such a thing should be expected at an occasion so completely unrelated. In reality, the article is just one appeal after another to the worst in people:
Hylton has written a memoir and Rosario Dawson wants to play her.
So, fairytales really do come true for psychopathic torturers–at least they have for Women’s March poster child Donna Hylton.
Hylton apparently jumped from being embraced by a movement that isn’t really a single organized entity in the first place, a dubious enough claim on its own, to being the movement’s poster child. Even worse, saying someone who was the victim of violence and discrimination had her fairytale come true by getting to advocate for eliminating those things is ridiculous. Even if she is pure evil, Hylton would still surely prefer that she’d never been abused, discriminated against, or sent to prison. That’s probably true even if Rosario Dawson ends up playing her in the movie.
Not all women are good people. Many victims of violence have done bad things themselves. People who are victims of discrimination in the justice system have often done things that rightfully led to their involvement with the justice system in the first place. In fact, the argument is usually that the sentence was too harsh, not that there shouldn’t have been a sentence at all.
If you think that people who’ve done bad things should never again have a say in anything, then at least you’re somewhat consistent. If you’re going to want to hear about the problems with the justice system from people who’ve experienced them first hand, then don’t be surprised when those people bring a lot of ugly baggage to the table. It’s often a necessary byproduct of the very reason why we want to hear from them.
In attacking things they don’t like, many people seem to be competing in a mad dash to the bottom these days. Desperately seeking agreement and taking a scorched earth approach to opponents themselves as well as their ideas, droves of otherwise reasonable, intelligent people aren’t arguing their positions on their merits, but rather trying to win anyway they can. Ad hominem seems to reign supreme with that approach, sadly, and the Spectator article about Hylton is a clear testament to that.
Let’s say Donna Hylton really is the worst human being on the face of the earth, a monstrous psychopath capable of unspeakable evil. Whether she’s Satan herself or not, the existence of many of the problems she and the Women’s March are trying to address seem to be undisputed. So do we just disregard the whole cause because the wrong person has become a visible part of it?
We can’t give in to the sorts of arguments contained in that post. They may be effective at demonizing causes that should be demonized from time to time, but they get the right result for the wrong reason. Donna Hylton’s past is a red herring. Her messages should resonate or not based on their own merits, not because we don’t like the messenger.